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The Australian, January 15, 2007

China's men lack millions of brides

By Jane Macartney

CHINA will be short of 30 million brides within 15 years, according to an official report into the country's burgeoning population.

About one in every 10 men aged between 20 and 45 - equivalent to almost the entire population of Canada - will be unable to find a wife.

The findings, from the State Population and Family Planning Commission, outline bleak prospects - and not only for bachelors.

The report says the gender imbalance could result in social instability - a threat that the Communist Party regards as the greatest risk to its grip on power.

It is almost three decades since China's rulers implemented a strict "one couple, one child" policy.

It replaced Chairman Mao Zedong's focus on a high birth rate, which had been intended to ensure that China could fend off enemies with human-wave warfare. The unintended consequences of those severe controls have become increasingly pronounced.

China's population is forecast to peak at 1.5 billion in 2033. That growth, coupled with demographic imbalances, will threaten social stability, the economy, the environment and jobs.

One effect of China's strict population control has been a jump in gender selection of babies. The traditional preference for a son means that more and more women abort their baby if an early-term ultrasound examination shows it to be a girl.

Officials deny that the gender imbalance is a result of the family-planning policy.

It is illegal for doctors to tell parents the results of an ultrasound test without a medical reason, though many do so.

As a result, abortions of female fetuses are widespread, especially in rural areas, as parents try to ensure that the one child they are allowed by law is a boy.

China's gender ratio for newborn babies in 2005 was 118 boys to 100 girls: compared with 110 to 100 in 2000.

In some regions, the sex ratio has ballooned to 130 boys to 100 girls. That compares with an average for industrialised countries of between 104 and 107boys for every 100 girls.

Tradition favours boys over girls, because men are seen as the main family breadwinner and in China only a son can carry on the family line. Daughters are expected to leave the home and become members of their husband's family.

Anxious government officials have launched a country campaign, painting slogans on walls of village houses that exhort parents to value their daughters: "Having a daughter is as good as having a son."

The population report said: "We need to develop a 'movement to embrace girls' ... and contain the trend towards greater gender imbalances."

Chinese officials have given no clues as to how they plan to find wives for the battalions of bachelors now growing up in Chinese schools.

However, the kidnapping of baby girls is becoming increasingly common as families seek a future bride for their only son.

Trade in women is also a problem in many rural areas where poor farmers are unable to attract a bride.

The Government is not yet ready to loosen its birth control policies and demonstrates pride in its achievement of preventing 400 million births through its one-child policy.

The authorities are instead promoting measures to curb the adoption of babies - almost all of whom are girls - by foreigners to ensure that they grow up in China.

The number of people of working age - between 15 and 64 - will increase from 860 million in 2000 to 1.01 billion in 2016, according to the report. That is more than the total in the world's developed nations.

In the next 20 years, up to 300 million people will leave their farms and move to towns and cities. The report said: "Our country is currently experiencing the largest human movement and migration in history."

China is having to cope with becoming the world's first country to grow old before it grows rich. The number of people older than 60 will jump from the current 143million to 430million by 2040.

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